Hong Kong is a truly global city – sometimes, I tend to think that it is even more global and open than Singapore. There is no other city in the world which comes close to Hong Kong if you factor in all key parameters which define a global city, except for one very major thing: cost of living. I will not agree that Singapore is the most expensive city in all of Asia Pacific – it is Hong Kong, very closely followed by Tokyo, then comes Singapore.
In economic dynamism, the resolute hard working attitude of its people, financial strengths of its banking institutions, and several other key parameters, Hong Kong has remained No. 1 in Asia Pacific, though Singapore has tried and succeeded in dislodging it from the coveted perch more often than not. Singapore studied Hong Kong for a long time before adopting some of its success formulas, so it is not surprising that both cities appear to be “similar” in many ways.
Now, let me come to the topic of this blog post!
The world witnessed how a global city can be brought to its knees during this past week, when student agitators and the general public (more than a million people) protested against the rash introduction of an extradition bill, which would have allowed the Hong Kong government to extradite its citizens (and other residents) to Mainland China. I totally agree that the HK government could have been more prudent, more cautious, and more measured in the way it approached this extremely sensitive matter of extradition to China. It also did not do a proper Public Relations job, communicating the intricacies of the bill to the general public. There is only one reason for all of this fiasco: the blame points to Carrie Lam, the obstinate Chief Executive of the Hong Kong government (yes, they have a CEO!). She did a very bad job, and was forced to tender a weak apology to the people which further inflamed the public, because she only suspended the introduction of the bill (meaning it is not fully withdrawn from the Legislature) and did not show any inclination to resign.
As a third party not involved in any of this, one can only do some rational thinking (like what most of the media analysts were doing anyway). Hong Kong has extradition agreements with many countries, including the U.S. It is totally funny that Hong Kong is actually an integral part of China, but its people would not permit such an agreement with their own “motherland”. This signifies a total mistrust that the Hong Kong people have on the Mainland China government and its system of rendering judicial decisions. Hong Kongers of course, trust their well embedded British-style system of justice which has been in place for over a hundred years.
It looks absolutely strange to me, however. Hong Kong can never separate from the Mainland, and yet wishes to go against the Mainland government and judicial system (which are not going to change anyway). I don’t believe that the Mainland government wanted this headache when it had to deal with more pressing trade issues. The key issue is that Carrie Lam tried to push the legislation through when it was not even a key demand of the China federal government – she just wanted to stay in their good books forever, I guess.
So, the fault lies at the doorsteps of the Hong Kong government. There should be no doubt about it. The right thing to do is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill totally and persuade the attorney general (or whatever equivalent they have in Hong Kong) to release the people arrested. That will assuage the feelings of the people who felt victimised by the police force. Her resignation may not be required, but if she makes one more misstep she will be gone for sure.
Further, the student activists need to realise that China is always going to be their “mother”, irrespective of whatever else happens. The honeymoon period is long since over, though the official integration date lies far into the future in 2047, when the 50-year period after the British handover comes to pause. China can do anything even in the interim.
Why fight? Show your steely determination. But, call everyone to the table for a negotiation. Violence is never an option for both sides, especially so in such a hugely important financial centre. It will knock Hong Kong from its stable perch, and create big doubts in the minds of global corporations and financial institutions. Further, the preferential treatment that the U.S. and the European Union accord to Hong Kong on trade and finance related matters will come under scrutiny. That will also happen if Mainland China is seen as intruding into the freedoms of operation in Hong Kong, so it has to watch out as well. All these factors become very critical in the light of serious trade conflict that is in progress currently between China and the U.S.
So, in conclusion, Carrie Lam has to withdraw the legislation and curb her obstinacy from playing again and damaging Hong Kong; the students and the general public have to go back to their vocations and not continue to disturb peace on the island. China was in any case, not doing anything in this matter, it was not demanding anything to be done. The problem is entirely conceived by Carrie Lam.
I hope Hong Kong will be back on its feet by Monday and proceed to do trade and finance in the usual manner which the entire world has always appreciated. All the best to Hong Kong and its most energetic and capable citizens!
22nd June 2019